Little Fish

Review by Jane Freebury

Little Fish heralds the very welcome return of two talented Aussies to the big screen in a fine Australian film. Cate Blanchett needs no introduction though Rowan Woods might. He directed The Boys, an uncompromising drama that examines distorted family life in a prelude to murder, and this is his first feature since that quite outstanding debut in 1998, though he’s been busy in television.

I couldn’t resist noticing some similarities with Little Fish, like a little Aussie battler mum Janelle (Noni Hazlehurst) and the uneasy social ambience in ‘struggletown’ suburbs. Though simmering violence is not the issue here, both her grown up children, Ray and Trace (Blanchett), as well as her former live-in boyfriend Lionel (Hugo Weaving) have been dependent on heroin. Her daughter’s rehabilitation is a beacon of hope.

Tracy has had a steady job for four years in a Vietnamese video shop and she appears to have swum free of the net of addiction in a way her brother and stepdad haven’t. Every now and then there are images of her doing laps in the suburban pool—a world away from the high-density streets—or of her as a youngster bathed in bright sunshine at the beach. The great Aussie beach experience shimmers in the background, as does the football in Lionel’s past, another motif.

While generally managing to avoid crudely drawn cultural stereotypes, this movie integrates the lives of Sydney westies with the Vietnamese of Sydney’s little Saigon, the suburb of Cabramatta. Khoa Do managed to combine the two in his unusual docudrama The Finished People last year, and indeed, one of his actors, Anh Do has found his way into this movie.

I wondered what I was listening to behind the dialogue – which is too heavily laden with expletives, in my view – it was interesting to see that a number of the tracks were Vietnamese. It only adds to the tapestry.

Blanchett proves her chameleon skills once again, and has slipped back into the broad ocker accent with ease, though there was a Kath & Kim moment with mum Janelle early in the piece. Martin Henderson is totally authentic as her brother, and a lean and bearded Hugo Weaving is quite striking as the addict who can’t kick his habit.

Rowan Woods is back with another strong movie that talks directly to us now.

4 stars